By Talia Traskos-Hart
Colorado state legislators began the 2024 legislative session last week with broad goals for the year. State legislators from North Denver—Representatives Alex Valdez and Tim Hernández—have centered affordable housing and support for students among other legislative priorities.
Rep. Valdez, who has represented House District 5 since 2019, said that the 2024 session may provide chances to build back from delays in lawmaking produced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Valdez said that legislators were focused on responding to and recovering from the pandemic over the past few years.
“My personal goal this year is to continue to make strides in the most important areas in my district,” Valdez said. “As a team we all want things to return to some sort of normal. … We really want to close ranks around what we promised to deliver for the people of Colorado. We’ve got everything from tax reform to reforms that seek to improve public transportation.”
Rep. Hernández echoed the need to pass legislation that delivers on promises to constituents in House District 4, which he has represented since last fall.
“I’m from the neighborhood, I grew up here, I taught here and I still live here. I really uniquely understand our circumstances in the neighborhood, specific to things like housing,” Hernández said.
As housing costs have risen across the city, local leaders in North Denver have continuously emphasized the need to expand the number of available, low-cost units to reduce homelessness and home instability. Valdez said that this year’s legislation aims to continue those efforts.
“There are a big slate of housing bills this session that will deal primarily with land use in highly populated areas,” Valdez said. “In District 5, even though we continue to see construction all over the district, we continue to see housing costs rise. Our package is going to be focused on how we can, in every way, deliver housing cheaper. The problem that has gotten worse is that it’s too expensive to live here, so the focus is on how to create abundance within the sector.”
Hernández highlighted the Landlord Tenant Warranty of Habitability bill as a significant goal in housing legislation for the session. The bill grew out of conversations Hernández had with residents struggling with inhospitable conditions such as faulty elevators or electrical outages.
“The bill is making sure that landlords have certain rental conditions that are safe and hospitable,” he said. “There are some residents in our community and our district who I met with several times on it. … That’ll be a great bill.”
While state Sen. Julie Gonzales was unavailable to be interviewed before The Denver North Star’s deadline, Hernández noted that she shares many of his legislative goals.
“(Gonzales) and I are going to be working very closely together,” he said.
Legislators such as Hernández have also cited a goal to continue increasing funding for the Denver Public Schools (DPS) system in the 2024 session, a particularly resonant issue for Hernández given his high school teaching experience.
“Schools will be fully funded in Colorado for the first time in 26 years this year following the legislative session. Supporting students is really important for me. … I was a kid who grew up in the neighborhood,” he said. “My perspective is rooted in the lived experience of students in schools and teachers in schools.”
Hernández is also leading efforts on a bill to create a Chicano special license plate, the funds from which would support a cultural education program for Latino students, who make up a substantial portion of the DPS student body.
“A lot of students don’t get cultural education in school right now,” Hernández said. “Chicano youth leadership [programs] from Pueblo all the way up to Greeley will be eligible to receive funding. Latino students have very limited opportunity right now for that experience in their education, and that’s unacceptable to me.”
Valdez spoke to his longstanding work on another aspect of support for students and families: childcare.
“I’ve tried to improve the situation every year,” he said. “For now, the question we’re answering is why are we losing so many childcare providers. That’s a question that impacts lives every day. … This year is an opportunity to return to asking how to make Colorado more affordable.”
Valdez also hopes to continue prioritizing environmental legislation this year, focusing on issues like transportation. He serves on the Energy and Environment Committee and cited his progress advancing pieces of environmental legislation such as the polystyrene foam food container and cup ban, which went into effect at the start of this year.
Reflecting on his remaining time serving the fifth district, Valdez said that he hopes to use his leadership to advocate for voters’ best interests.
“I’m down to my last three years in the state House—it goes very quickly. There’s an opportunity to take that institutional knowledge along with a mandate from our voters … to just improve the lives of people,” he said. “The thing I think about most is just wanting to leave a legacy that made House District 5 the best possible place for the wonderful people who live here.”
Hernández likewise emphasized his goal to put constituents first, citing his youth and teaching background as a unique point of view that may lend to leadership in this year’s legislative session.
“Making sure that we have somebody who is really tapped into the experience of young people is really important,” he said. “We have a unique makeup of our community, I know that because I grew up here.”
House District 4 (Hernández) includes Berkeley, Regis, West Highland, Sloan’s Lake and other western parts of northwest Denver. District 5 (Valdez) includes Chaffee Park and portions of Sunnyside and Jefferson Park.